District 65 Board votes to adopt next year’s budget, reports decreased enrollment


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Anya Tanyavutti speaks at a District 65 board meeting. The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 voted unanimously to adopt next year’s budget.

Delaney Nelson, Assistant City Editor

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board unanimously voted to adopt the district’s fiscal year 2021 budget, including aggregate expenses for the operation of Park School, at a meeting Monday.

Kathy Zalewski, the district’s business manager, said the budget for the 2020-21 school year will be the 19th consecutive balanced budget for the district. Zalewski said revenues are projected to drop this year by 1 percent, largely because of a decrease in childcare fees and lunch sales, which have been reduced because of a delay in in-person instruction.

Even if in-person instruction does start in November, Zalewski said revenues will remain lower than in previous years. The district’s federal aid has also decreased from projections for the previous 2020-21 budget due to adjustments to various grants, she said.

While revenues are projected to decrease, the district’s net expenditures are expected to increase 3 percent from last year’s adopted budget. The district plans to increase spending in its special education tuition category, which includes $1.5 million for Park School this fiscal year.

Zalewski said Park School, a self-contained therapeutic day program, will serve 70 students in this fiscal year. District 65 splits the operating cost of the school with Evanston Township High School/District 202, and the net cost for both districts is increasing by 5 percent.

Expenditures in the supplies and materials category, as well as the transportation category, increased from earlier projections for the year. Additional COVID-19 expenses will be funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act grant, for which Zalewski said the district was approved for $800,000.

The district projects a balanced budget for the 2022 fiscal year, followed by budget deficits in the years after. However, Zalewski said many of the projections are subject to change.

“There’s a lot of unknowns and it really depends on the post-pandemic recovery,” Zalewski said. “Post-pandemic recovery will determine the growth of the job market, the consumer confidence, and just the overall economy.”

Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial and operations officer, said D65’s administration is going to adjust and adapt the district’s financial activity accordingly, and will budget according to incoming revenues.

“Even though the financials look bad, the plan of this administration is not for this to come to pass,” Obafemi said.” We are going to change trajectory… We’re going to tighten our belts and going to make adjustments before it ever comes to that.”

The district currently has $30.1 million in their operating fund balance and referendum reserves from its 2017 operating referendum. Obafemi said the administration does not plan to rely on reserves, but instead will balance the budget in a fiscally responsible way.

In light of this fiscal situation, Zalewski said the district will be considering “unprecedented” budget-balancing strategies going forward and working to run programs as efficiently as possible. One strategy listed in Zalewski’s presentation was to “create and communicate a culture of fiscal conservatism to weather economic uncertainties.”

In addition to its impact on the district’s financials, the pandemic has also contributed to a decrease in student enrollment. Sarita Smith, manager of student assignments, said there are 227 fewer students registered than projected.

“We obviously can’t deny the impact that COVID-19 has had on our kindergarten enrollment and our early withdrawals from District 65,” Smith said.

Smith said kindergarten registrations are “noticeably behind,” at 17 percent lower than projected, and that some parents have chosen alternate options for their children, including homeschooling and private schools. She said she expects numbers to increase when school returns to in-person instruction.

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Twitter: @delaneygnelson

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